awareness

Tandem meditation 101: how meditating with your partner builds intimacy

wildmind meditation newsJason Nik, Care2.com: As a Life Coach, I’ve had many clients in relationships that meditate, but somehow it always surprises me when they tell me they only meditate on their own. When these clients are going through relationship troubles and I suggest meditating together, they look at me as if I don’t understand the concept of meditation.

We all know that the benefits of meditation have been well-documented as decreasing anxiety and increasing happiness for an individual among other things; but some of the time we have spent meditating alone to enhance our individual lives could also be spent meditating with another to enhance our relationships.

To play on an old saying, couples who meditate together stay together.

Meditation creates an entirely new peaceful world for you and your interest to share together. Perhaps even more exciting, people who just met or recently started dating can meditate together, developing a bond that months of getting to know each other could not replicate.

In any relationship, it takes time to get close to someone. In that time, you have no idea what obstacles may rise up in the way of your relationship developing. Time is important to develop a relationship, but if you want to build a close bond early, meditation with your interest is a great way to start. Meditating with someone new in your life creates a different kind of intimacy that forges a unique bond between the two of you. It may seem strange at first to meditate with someone else. Meditation is perceived to have been built for solitude and seclusion; however, when you consider the core principles of meditation, suddenly meditating with a partner makes so much sense.

One of the core principles of meditation is the removal of distractions. Work, money, health, etc.­­ these are all distractions in our personal lives that can be stressful for us to deal with. They are also things that (with proper meditation) we can remove from our minds—this creates the stress­ free clarity that we crave. In the same way those issues can be obstacles in our personal lives, they can also be major obstacles in our relationships.

Meditating with a partner will allow you both to remove those distractions from your minds so you can take the time to focus on what is most important: each other.

Having no judgment is another core principle of meditation. People so easily make quick judgments about others. Sometimes we think good things about a person, and other times we think bad things about that person. Whatever judgments are being made, meditation is a no-judgment zone. That means when you meditate with someone you are interested in, you put yourselves on the same level. It’s very important in any relationship that you start off on the same level, or you may create an imbalance that as your relationship progresses could eventually tip over, destroying everything the two of you built together.

The most important principle of meditation is awareness. In singular meditation, awareness is when our senses become heightened in order to consciously feel everything around us and achieve a peaceful state of mind. When we meditate as an individual, our sense of touch is not explored much. When we meditate with another, touch plays a significant role in building our bond.

It always amazes me how little people touch one other in the early stages of getting acquainted. As babies, the sense of touch is the first sense we acquire. As a adults, touch still plays a large role in our lives. When two people touch each other they send emotional signals between one another. The sense of touch plays such an important role in connecting with someone, but often times people are uncomfortable touching someone new.

In general, society far prefers to communicate with words or through facial expressions rather than through touch. Even worse is society’s refusal to communicate naturally at all, with a preference of communicating through texting. Communication may be faster through texting, but it strips away our natural connection and results in a disconnect.

On the other hand, touching brings two people closer together than any other form of communication. With touch, people are able to communicate on a truly emotional level. In order for two people to meditate together touching is required. It is through that touching that you remove the solo nature of meditation and instead create an awareness of each other. Intimacy begins with touching, and if you want to build a bond with someone you need to be comfortable touching them.

How does someone meditate with another, you ask?
Here are seven simple steps to begin your journey of meditating with a partner.

1. Find a quiet place where the two of you cannot be interrupted. Turn off your phones or place them on silent. Put them out of sight to keep them out of mind.

2. Wear comfortable clothing, the same clothing you would wear when meditating by yourself as long as your partner is comfortable with that clothing.

3. Sit cross legged, facing each other.

4. Hold both of your partner’s hands. How you hold hands is up to you, just make sure you are both comfortable with the position.

5. Look into each others’ eyes. Remember, this isn’t a staring contest so you’re more than welcome to blink. Also, don’t simply stare at their eyes, instead look into their eyes as if you’re searching for something deep within their soul.

6. Breathe. Don’t chant, just breathe. If you are used to chanting when you meditate on your own this will be a bit of an adjustment, but the reason I suggest you refrain from chanting is hearing someone else’s chant may catch you off guard. Meditating together relies so much on developing a succinct rhythm together

7. Start with five minute sessions and gradually increase to your desired time in dual meditation.

There are many different methods of meditating with another. This is a good starting point as it is comfortable and doesn’t require too much effort from either participant.

Whether you have known the person you’re meditating with for a long time or for only a little, follow these steps and you will be amazed at the deep and lasting bond you have created with another.

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How to use distractions to help your meditation

wildmind meditation newsMichael Taft, The Huffington Post: When I first started meditating, one of the hardest things was trying to stay focused. There were just so many things to do, people to interact with, noises like music or blaring car horns that shattered and upset my nascent meditative vibe. I felt like I was drowning. How could I focus in a sea of constant distraction?

The funny thing is that, more than 30 years later, the distractions are still the same. Sirens wail, the bladder complains, people demand my attention, life is moving along in just the same intense, chaotic, confusing manner. If anything, decades of …

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Use mindfulness to overcome unhealthy cravings

wildmind meditation newsMichael Taft, Huffington Post: I love espresso. But I remember sometimes “waking up” suddenly and finding myself right in the middle of a shuddering caffeine meltdown. I’d been writing on my laptop at a coffee shop, focused on work. Starting out with a latté early in the morning, I’d just kept ordering and drinking triple-espresso drinks all day long while happily typing away. This caffeine intake had all been in the background, unconscious, until my slapping heartbeat and thundering jolts of anxiety crashed violently into the foreground. I would stop then, but I — and my friends and partner — were left to cope …

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Simply noticing — a path to mindfulness

wildmind meditation newsPatricia Pearce: Each morning I begin my day by reading a poem by Mary Oliver. Yesterday morning I read one, “Humpback,” from her book American Primitive that brought me to tears. Oliver has a unique gift of opening herself to Reality, the Reality so many of us spend our days asleep to, and of finding words to convey it such that its radiance can pierce our own minds.

It got me thinking about how the poet’s foremost job is to be awake to life and to notice things that most of us don’t. Only by being awake does the poet have anything to …

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What is “Mindful Presence”?

What Is Mindful Presence?

Let’s unpack those two words, mindful presence.

Mindfulness is simply a clear, non-judgmental awareness of your inner and outer worlds. In particular, it’s an awareness of the flow of experience in your inner world – an alert observing of your thoughts, emotions, body sensations, desires, memories, images, personality dynamics, attitudes, etc.

When you are mindful of something, you are observing it, not caught up in it and not identified with it. The psychological term, “the observing ego” – considered to be essential for healthy functioning – refers to this capacity (i.e., mindfulness) to detach from the stream of consciousness and observe it. Other terms for this capacity include bare witnessing and the Fair Witness.

Mindful Presence Series

  1. What is “Mindful presence”?
  2. Why develop mindful presence?
  3. Mindful presence: A mindfulness tune-up.
  4. Mindful presence: Open space mindfulness.

Mindfulness is an everyday psychological capacity, not some kind of lofty mystical state. To quote an unidentified meditation master: “Even children, drunkards, madmen, those who are old, or those who are illiterate, can develop mindfulness.”

Presence refers to the stability of mindfulness, which means the degree to which you are grounded in awareness itself.

With practice, awareness becomes increasingly your home base, your refuge, rather than the contents of awareness. You abide more and more as the field of awareness upon which experiences arise, register, and pass away.

The sense of awareness itself starts taking up more and more space in your daily experience; you certainly still get caught up in and swept along by mental contents many times a day, but you find there is more of a feeling of background awareness even then, plus you return to the awareness position more quickly, and stay there longer.

As mindful presence increases, there is a growing sense of being as the container of your everyday life, which holds the doing and the having of daily activities. You are being being. Doing and having no longer contain little moments of being; instead, being is increasingly the ongoing space through which ripples of doing and having come and go.

This quality of abiding as awareness moves out into your life beyond time spent meditating. Simply stretching your hand for a cup of coffee or tea becomes increasingly infused with a sense of full awareness of that act. So with other physical activities.

With people, you become more settled into being fully there with them, more peacefully relaxed in awareness of them and you and what’s happening, less identified with pleasant or unpleasant reactions that arise, less caught up in the past or future or sense of needing to make something happen. We can feel it immediately when someone else is mindfully present with us; similarly, others can feel it when you are that way yourself.

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Is the “self” real?

portrait of beautiful man model sepia tonedIs the “Self” real? What’s the nature of the sense of being that remains when parts of the psyche fall away?

The answer depends on how you define “Self.” I use that word to refer to the central “I” that’s presumed in Western psychology and philosophy (and everyday usage) to be the owner of experiences and agent of actions, and which is defined and constituted by three attributes: unification (there’s just one “I”), permanence (the “I” stays the same, things happen to it but it doesn’t change), and independence (the “I” is just there, an innate part of the psyche, not created by anything, and fundamentally not dependent on anything [other than a brain] for its existence).

The facts that these three attributes that presumably constitute an “I” – unification, permanence, and independence – cannot be found in one’s own experience, nor in the neural processes that underlie I-related activations or representations in the brain. The actual experience of “I” is made up of parts (not unified), continually changing (not enduring), and affected by many factors (not independent; much the same has been seen in neuroimaging studies. (Check out these two papers: Is Self Special? and What Is Self-Specific?)

To use the language of Buddhism, the apparent “I” is empty: without substantial, essential nature; both phenomenologically and ontologically, the presumed “me, myself, and I” is empty. If you like, check out my book, Buddha’s Brain, whose last chapter is about this subject.

In general I think that we can have and value all sorts of experiences of witnessing, integration, beingness, spacious awareness, etc., while also recognizing that these experiences (and their dynamic neural substrates) are compounded, transient, and dependently arising . . . and thus empty of essence. Like others I’m sure, I’m leery of reifying or substantiating dynamic and insubstantial processes – even vital ones, such as the executive functions, subjectivity (ipseity), or the encompassing awareness that remains when the “parts” step back – into an entity, a being, a self . . . because this is when trouble and suffering begins, when we identify with and try to protect and glorify such an entity.

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Feel Whole

midnight coniferous forest on a mountain slopeWhen I look back on mistakes I’ve made – like dumping my anger on someone, making assumptions in haste, partying too much, losing my nerve, being afraid to speak from my heart – in all cases a part of me had taken over. You know what I mean. The parts of us that have a partial view, are driven by one aim, clamp down on other parts, really want to have a particular experience or to eat/drink/smoke a particular molecule, yammer away critically, or hold onto resentments toward others.

The mega part – the big boss – is of course the inner executive, the decision-maker and driver – some call it the ego – centered in neural circuits in the prefrontal cortex, behind your forehead. This part is determined to a fault, running things top down, ignoring bottom-up signals of growing fatigue, irritability, burnout, and issues with others. It draws on and gets wrapped up in the sequential, action-planning, language processing parts of you that are based in regions in the left side of your brain. (The statements here about sides of the brain are reversed for about half of all left-handed people.) Meanwhile, the boss part shames, disowns, and suppresses other parts of you, especially those that are softer, more vulnerable, and younger.

But when you open to the whole of your experience, you have more information and can make better decisions. You perceive more fully, seeing the big picture, putting things in perspective. You free up energy that was spent pushing down your real feelings. You tune into your body, your heart. You’re less fixed or attached in your views. You recognize the good things in you and around you that you’d tuned out. You feel more supported, more protected. You take things less personally.

You feel at home in yourself.

Awareness is like a big stage upon which lots of sights, sounds, tastes, touches, smells, thoughts, feelings, memories, and wants pop up for a bit and then pass away. All this is in your consciousness, but mainly in the background. The spotlight of attention bounces around the stage, lighting up one thing after another.

In the practices that follow, you are going to widen the spotlight – the field of attention – to include more and more of the whole stage. This draws on networks on the sides of your brain, mainly on the right side, because it is specialized for holistic processing, for taking things as a whole, as a gestalt. By doing these little practices repeatedly when you have a moment of quiet, you will stimulate and therefore strengthen the neural networks that support feeling whole, so that you can sustain that sense of wholeness even when the oatmeal hits the fan.

Here we go.

For a dozen seconds or longer, be aware of all the sounds around you. Let them be what they are, lasting or changing. Disengage from inner verbal commentary about them; stay with the experience of sounds as a whole. Notice how this feels: probably more relaxed and at ease.

Soften your gaze and be aware of sights around you, the visual field as a whole. Explore lifting your gaze toward the horizon, which will tend to activate neural networks that process sights in a more global, I’m-integrated-with-the-whole-world way. (See James Austin’s book, Selfless Insight, for more on this.)

For a dozen seconds or longer, be aware of the sensations of breathing in the front of your chest, around your heart . . . aware of this area as a whole. Then be aware of your whole chest breathing, including the stomach, diaphragm, rib cage, and back. Take the whole chest as a single, unified gestalt, rather than attention skittering from one sensation in it to another. Then broaden attention further to include the sensations of air moving down your throat . . . your hips and shoulders and head shifting slightly with each breath . . . sensations around your nose and upper lip . . . gradually taking the whole body as the unified object of attention . . . abiding as a whole body breathing. Notice how this feels; let the feeling of this sink in again and again so that you can come home to this way of being more easily in the future.

And you can take it a step further, with the sensations of breathing coming together with sounds and sights, these perceptions experienced as a single whole, all known together globally, nothing left out, breath after breath.

Also – resting in some sense of ease with yourself, try opening to the emotions you may have pushed away. Can you let them come up, and flow through you? Then try opening to longings you may have pushed away, opening to needs or vulnerabilities that’ve been silenced or set aside. Welcome these various emotions and longings into awareness. You don’t have to act upon them. In fact, by welcoming them you will make them feel more at home – so they will become less insistent or strident – and you will feel more at home in yourself.

With moments of practice that add up over time, you will feel more like a whole person, less fragmented and partial, less yanked this way and that by competing desires in your head. As this happens, you will feel more fed and fulfilled and thus less defended, less separated from others, less a part – and more connected, more entwined with the world as whole.

Notice how this feels, probably safer, more contented, and more loved and loving. Let it sink in again and again.

At home in wholeness.

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Bringing mindfulness to habits

Many of our ways of coping with the challenges of daily life seem like a good idea, but they turn out to be unhelpful. What happens when mindfulness meets multitasking, rushing, tensing, keeping up and keeping going?

1. Multi-tasking

Time is precious, so it makes sense to do as many things as you can at the same time … right? That’s an attitude our culture encourages, but if our attention is spread across several things, how fully can we take in any of them? And what effect does multi-tasking have on our state of mind? Research suggests that you don’t actually get more done by multi-tasking. It’s more efficient, as well as more satisfying, to give your full attention to whatever your doing so you can do it properly.

A mindful alternative: doing one thing at a time (at least when that’s possible).

2. Tensing Up

Perhaps your experience sometimes goes like this. You know it’s going to be a difficult conversation. You turn it over in your head beforehand. You think you’ve worked out what to say, but when it comes to it, you’re feeling tense. The other person responds badly and you tense up even more. You snap at them. This isn’t going well …

A mindful alternative: staying open to what’s happening. This means noticing tension whenever it arises and finding the space to be open to what the other person is saying, even if you don’t like it. Mindfulness practices can help.

3. Keeping Going When You Really Need to Stop

It’s late afternoon and you notice strain creeping into your work, but you’re on a roll so you just keep going. That evening you’re shattered and realize that the strain was actually much greater than you felt at the time.

A mindful alternative: pacing yourself. Pacing means slowing down or stopping before you want to. That can be a challenge, but the experience of running long distances or managing pain shows that if you pace yourself you can achieve much more.

4. Rushing

Rushing happens when we’re so focused on a deadline that we prioritize speed over everything else. It can go like this: It’s morning and you’re trying to get yourself and the kids out of the house. You clean your teeth faster, eat your breakfast faster, talk faster. By the time you’re all on the road, you’ve had a couple of arguments and you’re rushing to work … and the day hasn’t really started yet.

A mindful alternative: getting off ‘autopilot’. It’s true that some things need to be done quickly, but bringing awareness to what’s happening interrupts the tendency to rush. We need cues to remind ourselves to get off autopilot and take things steadily.

5. Trying to keep up with what’s happening

So much of the information that comes at us through the mainstream and social media carries a hidden message: ‘It’s important that you keep up and stay in touch, otherwise you’ll be left behind.’ So we keep cramming more stimulation into our limited minds, squeezing out the space in which we might feel calm and spacious.

A mindful alternative: paying attention to what we take in through the senses and reducing input. Our attention is a precious commodity, we need to guard it carefully.

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Mindfulness: Is it a fad or a powerful life-changing coping skill? A look at the science.

wildmind meditation newsAmanda Mascarelli, The Washington Post: Imagine this scenario: You come home from work tired and frazzled, and your little kids are running wild. Perhaps this doesn’t require much imagination. People in such situations might find solace in a popular meditative practice called mindfulness.

With mindfulness, you train your mind to focus on the present and respond with reason before emotion. It’s about taking a pause and guiding yourself to become “aware enough in the moment so that before you react, you’re aware of how you’re responding to a situation,” says Ronald Epstein, a professor of family medicine at the University of Rochester Medical …

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Developing a “Buddha Brain” through gratitude

A ”buddha brain” is one that knows how to be deeply happy, loving, and wise. We develop ourselves in this way by cultivating wholesome qualities and uprooting unwholesome ones. In a sense, we plant flowers and pull weeds in the garden of the mind – which means that we are gradually changing the brain for the better.

Gratitude is a powerful tool in this “garden” since what you rest your attention upon is what will shape your brain the most. That’s because “neurons that fire together, wire together.” Gratitude shifts your attention away from resentment, regret, and guilt – and therefore stops you from building up the neural substrates of these known factors of mental and physical health problems. Gratitude also focuses your awareness on positive things, simple good facts such as having enough water to drink, the laughter of children, the kindness of others, or the smell of an orange.

To reap the rewards of gratitude, rest your attention on a good fact, noticing details about it, staying with it for at least a few seconds in a row. Then allow a natural emotional response of gratitude to arise. Continue to pay attention to this feeling of gratitude for another few seconds – or even longer: it’s delicious! Taking these few extra seconds will help you weave gratitude into the fabric of your brain and your Self. And you can practice gratitude both on the fly, as you move through your day, and at specific occasions, such as at meals or just before bed.

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